08 February 2016

A Sunny Metropolis for Misogynists

Dirty City
Michael Young
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949
If you cannot find the name of Dirty City on the map of the United States it's because you haven't looked hard enough. Look again and you're sure to find it. It's there all right, only the inhabitants don't call it by its right name.
Miami? Fort Lauderdale? All I can say for sure is that it's most definitely in Florida. Maybe you know it. Dirty City is a place of lush hotels by the beach, expensive dress shops, fur stores and call houses. Hayseed suckers will save, stay long enough to get a tan, and then return home to brag. In Dirty City an assemblyman once proposed making it illegal for the poor to be seen in rich neighbourhoods. His fellows though it might bring bad publicity.

As News Stand Library novels go, Dirty City isn't all that bad. While it stumbles stylistically, the dialogue is strong and the plot is interesting. In the right hands it might have made for a solid B-movie, though casting would have been a challenge.

There are thirteen characters in Dirty City; these are just three:
  • Pepe Gonazales, a champion jai-alai player who lost his title after breaking his arm. He's in love with Rosalinda, owner of a successful hash joint.
  • Simco Sorensen, a loveable giant who owes a little something to Steinbeck's Lennie Small. He's in love with his greyhound bitch Gypsy.
  • Mickey Warren, a handsome, lazy war vet. He's in love with himself.
There's not much to Mickey; he'd have been the hardest to cast. Whatever he's got in life, which isn't much, is owed to good looks. Former live-in girlfriend Carolina, a manicurist at the swanky Gondola Hotel, is always good for a touch. Mickey's the sort of guy who is always cooking up get-rich-quick schemes. His latest involves a cabin in a remote swamp, the site of violent orgies hosted by multi-millionaire Harold Johnson and his sadistic valet Melville. Mickey's idea, bankrolled by Pepe and Simco, is to buy the place and then rent it to the wealthy pervert at an inflated price.

Consider it an investment. Pepe is looking to make a comeback. Simco is somehow convinced that Gypsy would be a champion racer if only he could afford a trainer. Mickey sees the dough as providing seed money for future schemes.

This particular scheme is brought down by the arrival of New York chorus girl Milly White. Her appearance in Dirty City is the doing of boyfriend Jimmie Henderson, a Broadway producer who has fallen on hard times. Jimmie has his own scheme, which involves trading his unsuspecting girl for Johnson's investment in a new show. If this seems a long shot, it's only because you haven't seen Milly:
Milly looked like you'd imagine a girl might look like if Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable were one. Add a touch of what Ava Gardner has, and you're jet about describing Milly White.
Jimmie's gamble pays off. Johnson gives him $50,000 to abandon Milly and return to New York, where a further $200,000 awaits. Mickey is thwarted by the producer's success. Johnson has no use for the cabin, choosing to forgo his usual season of orgies and focus on one woman:
His feeling for her was a mixture of admiration and intense hatred. He wanted to desecrate her, use her, whip her, destroy her morally, and then, when she looked old and finished throw her out.
Finding himself saddled with a useless piece of real estate, a desperate Mickey sets out to replicate Jimmie's success by presenting himself as a good samaritan, gaining Milly's trust, have her fall in love with him, and then sell her off to Johnson. Seems another long shot, I know, but he very nearly pulls it off.

If Mickey's near-success seems improbable, it's only because of a sudden change of pace. I sense an editor at work, slashing to bring the book in at the publisher's usual 158 page count. Events in the final quarter come fast and furious. The barrage doesn't let up until the end, which features an unusually long monologue in which Mickey attempts to explain himself. Nothing will be spoiled by including a snippet or two here:
I hated the idea of people making millions during the war on the blood and horror of the guys who fought and died. I figured I wouldn't be a sucker, that I'd make my pile. 
Now they're drumming up another little war for us. But they don't get me this time. I was right about some things and wrong about others. Just because they were bastards profiting by the war didn't mean I had to become one.

A novel about the corrupting influence of money and those who have it, in an odd way Dirty City isn't at all dated.

Depressing, I know.

Take heart, it's also a novel about the redemptive power of love and how it triumphs over money. Author Michael Young's message – for this is a message novel – is that money can't buy love.

But then we've known that since 1964.

About the author: I know nothing. This novel is the last in an  effort to read titles and authors by published only by News Stand Library. My thinking was that maybe, just maybe, I might come across something familiar that would lead to the discovery of another Love is a Long Shot or Waste No Tears. Wish I could report that the investment paid off.

Object and Access: One of News Stand Library's poorer productions, this one was a particularly challenging read. I'm certain there were more typos than usual. This is one of the more interesting:
This time she split. It hit him across the cheek and the saliva oozed down his chin. He wiped it off in disgust.
Dirty City isn't so much as listed on WordCat, and yet isn't so rare that it can't be found for sale online. Prices begin at three Yankee dollars. Go get 'em!

Related post:

02 February 2016

Of War, Peace and Montreal's Writers' Chapel

It seems 2016 has barely begun and yet the year's first issue of Canadian Notes & Queries has already landed. The ninety-fourth, it's the first under the editorship of Emily Donaldson.

My fellow contributors will understand, I hope, when I write that my favourite piece is "My Heart is Broken", a talk delivered by John Metcalf at the unveiling of a memorial plaque to Mavis Gallant at Montreal's Writer's Chapel this past autumn. Ian McGillis provides a companion piece on the venue, its history and the group behind the whole thing.*

Others featured in the issue include:
André Alexis
Heather Birrell
Michael Cho
Jason Dickson
Beth Follett
Douglas Glover
David Godkin
Anita Lahey
David Mason
Michael Prior
Bruce Whiteman
In my own contribution – another Dusty Bookcase on paper – I make the case for There Are Victories (New York: Covici Friede, 1933), an ambitious, unconventional and next to unobtainable novel by Charles Yale Harrison. Sharp students of Canadian literature will make a link with his Generals Die in Bed (New York: Morrow, 1930), Harrison's first work of fiction, inspired by his experiences in the Great War.

There Are Victories is not a war novel, though I've seen it described as such. The conflict figures only in that a third of the way in the protagonist, Montrealer Ruth Courtney, marries a man who disappears for a time to fight in Europe. He returns damaged, violent, prone to rape, and drawn more than ever to prostitutes. Ruth escapes to Manhattan, where she finds comfort in the arms of another man. He's better only in comparison.

As I write in the piece, There Are Victories is the sort glorious failure that is worthy of attention.

May you be so blessed as to come across a copy.
* Full disclosure: I'm a member of that self-same group.
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01 February 2016

McGee's Lines on a Once Famous Festival Day

Verse written by son of Erin and Father of Confederation Thomas D'Arcy McGee in celebration of Saint Bridget of Kildare (a/k/a Saint Brigid, Saint Brigit), patron of poets, printing presses and scholars.

The Poems of Thomas D'Arcy McGee
Montreal: D & J Sadlier, 1870
Good Catholics and Anglicans will recognize the first of February as St Brigid's Feast Day; bad Anglicans like myself will not, which is why I reach for Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers' Saints Preserve Us! First published in 1993 and in print to this day, it has long served as a spiritual guide.

The story of this chaste result of unholy union between a pagan chieftain and a slave girl shows itself to be both fantastical and a touch titillating:
She hated her own beauty, for it attracted numerous lusty suitors, despite her well-known vow of perpetual chastity. Finally, her constant prayers to become ugly were answered – miraculously, one of her eyes became grotesquely huge, while the other disappeared – so her father consented to her becoming a nun. It is said that, during the ceremony, Angels shoved aside the attending priest and presented her with the veil, the wooden steps of the altar burst into leaf, and her good looks were instantly restored.
You can't make that stuff up. Not always, anyway. Later in the entry, Kelly and Rogers inform:
Since she was born sixty-six years after the death of Saint Patrick, reports of their intimate friendship are doubtless exaggerated. Nor is it necessarily true that the holy but drunken Saint Mel consecrated her a full-fledged bishop. Some facts we may be sure of, though. Her bath water was sometimes transformed into beer for the sake of thirst clerics…
There's much more, but the image of a naked virgin turning bathwater into beer should be inspiration enough for today's poets.

Need more?

She also taught a fox to dance.

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26 January 2016

Remembering Ted Allan on His Hundredth

Today marks the centenary of Ted Allan’s birth. Though our lives overlapped by more than three decades, the only time I actually laid eyes on the man was at the 1993 Richer Roast. The venue was the Oval Ballroom of the Ritz-Carleton, the very same space that would one day serve to host the Panofsky wedding reception in Barney's Version. 

Would that I could remember Allan's speech. The only bit – and it was a bit – that has remained with me is the end: "Mordecai,” said Allan, turning to the roastee, “do me a favour. Next time someone compliments you on Lies My Father Told Me, would you please correct them."


Two decades after the man's death, it's still for Lies My Father Told Me – as short story, film and play – that Allan is best remembered. So many other works have fallen by the wayside, but there is reason to hope. Where seven years ago not one of his books was in print, we now have two: The Scalpel, The Sword (Dundurn, 2009), the Bethune biography he co-authored with Sidney Gordon, and This Time a Better Earth (U of Ottawa Press, 2015), Allan's 1939 debut novel. The latter is particularly welcome… so rare was it that the author himself didn't own a copy.

In celebration of the day, recognition of the five Ted Allan books that remain out of print. All are worthy of revival, but none more so than Willie, the Squowse. Honestly, how is it possible that it isn't in print?

Love is a Long Shot
Alice K. Doherty [pseud Ted Allan]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949
Quest for Pajaro
Edward Maxwell [pseud ted Allan]
London: Heinemann, 1957
Willie the Squowse
Ted Allan
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1978
Love is a Long Shot
Ted Allan
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1984
Don't You Know Anybody Else?
Ted Allan
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1985

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25 January 2016

Anne of the Island and Other Mid-Winter Fantasies

Just the thing to combat the seasonal blues, this new edition of Anne of the Island provides ample evidence of Tutis Classics' lingering influence. Fans of the defunct Indian print on demand house will remember the sunny Canada that graced so many of its covers.

They will also remember the wonderful imagination on display in its editions of Catharine Parr Traill, Ralph Connor, Gilbert Parker, Grant Allen, Agnes C. Laut and other giants of Canadian literature. Egerton Ryerson Young's By Canoe and Dog-Train is a personal favourite.

This post isn't about Tutis but ebook publisher HMDS Printing Press. Not yet three months old, and already they have a certain place in my heart. Their covers – if ebooks can be said to have covers – may not be quite so sophisticated as Tutus, but they demonstrate just as much creativity.

Remember the time Anne tried to dye her hair black? HMDS's Anne of Green Gables imagines a much happier result.

In Anne of Avonlea,  the series' second book, our raven-haired heroine gets a dog.

I was reminded of nothing so much as the dog that features on the cover – but not in the text – of Tutis Classics' Kilmeny of the Orchard.

With HMDS's Anne of Ingleside, our heroine returns to her original hair colour and introduces the mini-skirt to 19th-century Prince Edward Island.

Sadly, the covers deceive. Paragraph structure aside, HMDS's editions stick to Montgomery's text; Anne's hair still turns green, there is no dog, and skirts remain long and heavy. Happily, the publisher's claim that each is "COLOR ILLUSTRATED" is accurate. HMDS credits the interior art to Leonardo, but I spotted works by Sargent, Bougereau, Rossetti, Thomas Girtin, Margaret Sarah Carpenter and Herbert James Draper.

Selection and placement are intriguing.

Sure to keep Montgomery scholars busy.

I wish HMDS Printing Press well, and look forward to the day in which they actually print something. 

A Bonus:

As is so often the case, I thank JRSM for bringing HMDS to my attention. His own thoughts on the mess can be found at Caustic Cover Critic.

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18 January 2016

Falling Hard for May Agnes Fleming

The Midnight Queen
Mrs May Agnes Fleming
New York: Hurst, [n.d.]

This coming Friday will mark seven years since I set out on this exploration of our suppressed, ignored and forgotten, so how is it that this is my first post on May Agnes Fleming? Canada's earliest bestseller, no one has been so forgotten as her, right? What gives? The simple fact is that for all my hunting I just never came across any of Fleming's books. Oh, they're out there – loads are listed online – but they're not making their way into used bookstores. Not the ones I haunt anyway.

Patience lasts only so long. Last month I bid two Yankee dollars for this 19th-century copy of Fleming's seventh novel, The Midnight Queen. As it turned out, I was alone. Shipping set me back a further twenty-five.

A story of the plague year, The Midnight Queen takes place over the course of one remarkably eventful evening. It begins with a chance encounter between young Sir Norman Kingsley and his friend Malcolm Ormiston in a darkening London thoroughfare. Sir Norman has made preparations to flee the afflicted city and advises Ormiston to do the same. However, his friend has fallen in love and cannot otherwise be moved. The object of his desire is a woman of exquisite figure and great mystery. An enchantress, she is known only as "La Masque" – so named as her face is invariably hidden behind a veil of black velvet. Ormiston seizes upon any excuse to visit, and so encourages Sir Norman to make use of the lady's services as a soothsayer.

A servant serves as usher, introducing the pair to a room appointed with the very finest Goth fixings. La Masque enters and entreats Sir Norman to gaze upon the water held by an ebony cauldron sitting in the centre of the room. What follows delights and disturbs. He sees first an extravagant gathering presided over by a woman whose beauty surpasses any of his dreams. A dungeon cell is the setting of the next scene. The woman reappears. Sir Norman draws his sword and strikes her heart. This is followed by an image of two men lying on the street.
"Do you know those two last figures? asked the lady.
"I do," said Sir Norman, promptly; "it was Ormiston and myself."
"Right! and one of them was dead."
Sir Norman and Ormiston have no sooner left La Masque's abode – without paying, I note – when they witness a shrieking woman run from a nearby house. Inquisitive souls, the friends enter the building to find a lifeless figure in glowing bridal gown of white satin. Further inspection reveals a mark of the plague, but Sir Norman is more concerned by the dead woman's resemblance to the one he saw himself kill minutes earlier.

Most conveniently, a plague cart happens by. Sir Norman reluctantly assists in placing the bride upon the pile of other plague-ridden bodies. Such is the woman's beauty that Sir Norman detcides to follow the cart to the plague pit – the one in Finsbury Fields, to be precise – so that he might gaze upon her face one last time.

Ormiston proves what a good friend he is:
     "Oh! if you are determined, I will go with you, of course; but it is the craziest freak I ever heard of. After this, you need never laugh at me."
     " I never will," said Sir Norman, moodily; "for if you love a face you have never seen, I love one I have only looked on when dead. Does it not seem sacrilege to throw any one so like an angel into that horrible plague-pit."
Clearly, a rhetorical question.

Just as the nameless bride is being readied for the old heave ho, she comes to life. Unfortunately, upon seeing her surroundings, she again loses consciousness. With Ormiston's help, Sir Norman carries the woman back to his home. The pair then set out to fetch a doctor, only to return to an empty house.

In her Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry, Fred Cogswell praises May Agnes Fleming for plots "as ingenious and satisfying as those of Wilkie Collins". This one involves a secret court composed of highwaymen, an evil dwarf prince, handsome triplets and their disfigured half-sister, Charles II in disguise and the presidency of the yet to be born United States. One character will be beheaded, another will die of fright, a couple more will be run through, and as might be expected, many will be taken by the plague. Sir Norman is the unfortunate witness to the suicide of a woman who throws herself into the pit:
He saw her for a second or two heaving and writhing in the putrid heap; and then the strong man reeled and fell with his face on the ground, not fainting, but sick unto death. Of all the dreadful things he had witnessed that night there was nothing so dreadful as this; of all the horror he had felt before, there was none to equal what he felt now. In his momentary delirium, it seemed to him she was reaching her arms of bone up to drag him in, and that the skeleton face was mopping, and mowing, and grinning at him on the edge of the awful pit.
One hell of a ride, I didn't want to let go, and became wistful in reading the final page.

And so, flush with new love for an old author, I turn again to online booksellers – and throw buckets of money at postal services.

Trivia: First published under the title La Masque; Or, The Midnight Queen (New York: Brady, 1863).

In his memoir, The Pope's Bookbinder (Windsor: Biblioasis, 2013), bookseller David Mason references one edition I've not yet seen entitled The Midnight Queen: A Tale of Illusion, Delusion and Mystery. "Now this strikes me as one of the greatest titles for a book," he writes, "one so good that, as has been said of the first sentences of Johnson's Rasselas, there is no need to read any further."

I'm glad I did.

Coincidence: Whilst researching my long promised tome on the Maria Monk hoax I happened upon the novel serialized under the title Lady Leoline in Montreal's True Witness & Catholic Chronicle (28 November 1888 - 6 March 1889).

What with the elements of the occult and supernatural featured in the plot, I was quite surprised.

Object: A fragile 256-page hardcover printed on the very finest Hurst newsprint. A later Federal Press edition, also undated, uses the same plates, adding this entirely incongruous illustration:

Access: Our public libraries fail (here I include Library and Archives Canada). Six academic libraries have copies – The University of New Brunswick, the  University of Toronto, Brandon University and the University of Alberta, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria – but all are non-circulating.

Five copies are currently listed for sale online, ranging in price from US$12.50 (New York: Federal, n.d.) to US$385 (New York: Dillinger, 1888). The Brady first edition is nowhere in sight.

Print on demand vultures have been picking over The Midnight Queen for years, embarrassing themselves in the process. Dodo's edition calls on the talents of Claude Monet in casting Madame Gaudibert in mid-19th-century French dress as the Midnight Queen. Or is she meant to be the rescued bride? In any case, the hair colour is all wrong.

The book can be read online here through the good folks at the Internet Archive.

12 January 2016

L'Influence d'un film; or, The KKK Saves the Day

'The Ku Klux Klan to the Rescue'
D.C. Macdonald
The Saint Andrew's College Review, Christmas 1915

Discovered quite by chance late last month, I put off writing about this short story so as not to sully the holiday season.

You're welcome.

"The Ku Klux Klan to the Rescue" flowed from the pen of D.C. Macdonald, a fifth form student at Saint Andrew's College – Canada's Largest All-Boys Boarding School™ – located just north of Toronto in small but affluent Aurora, Ontario. Macdonald was one of the institution's most prolific writers; 1915 alone saw no less than three stories contributed to its thrice-annual Review. His style is distinctive; short on dialogue, long on action, it reads like a silent movie – which is appropriate because "The Ku Klux Klan to the Rescue" is an homage to The Birth of a Nation, the year's biggest film.

The Toronto World, 18 September 1915
Because the story is so short, without further comment I provide this synopsis of "The Ku Klux Klan to the Rescue" with every single line of dialogue – all four – rendered in the form of silent movie cards.*

Wilson and King, former lieutenants in the Grand Army of the Republic, have partnered with Hardwick, a Southerner, to purchase a tobacco plantation somewhere in Virginia:
Hardly had they become settled when the terrible news of Lincoln's assassination reached them. Later on came stories of terrible negro riots, where the blacks, seemingly intoxicated by their sudden freedom, and fiery speeches from their trick doctors had run amuck doing tremendous damage  in some localities even taking the lives of innocent whites.
The three do their best to avoid "the negro settlements", but eventually exhaust their provisions. They make for the nearest village, now "crowded with half-intoxicated negroes". Once there, Hardwick is accosted by "a hulking negro".

The Southerner fights back, setting off one "the dreaded negro riots". Hardwick, Wilson and King manage to flee, but know that they are not out of danger.

The plantation owners work to fortify their home, after which Hardwick rides off to enlist the help of the Ku Klux Klan. A quarter-mile into his journey, the Southerner is challenged.
Accordingly, whipping out his revolver he drove full tilt at the enemy, firing as he went. The negroes were too completely surprised to offer much resistance, and he was through them before they realized it, leaving one dead and three wounded in his trail. The enraged blacks a last recovered their senses, but not until it was too late. Those with fire-arms blazed away with customary negro accuracy, only one shot striking the fugitive. That unlucky bullet passed through Hardwick's arm, causing him to reel in his saddle, but quickly recovering himself he pressed on with determination.
Hardwick manages to reach the Klan's meeting place, and a call to arms takes place beneath a burning cross.

Meanwhile, back at the plantation, a battle rages. Though vastly outnumbered, Wilson, King, and two "reliable servants" have managed to hold off their attackers with bullets and pots of boiling water they throw in "evil faces". Their defences break at the very moment the Klan appears.

Those who aren't killed or wounded flee for the village with the Klan in pursuit. The group encamps to ward off further attacks.


* I'm much obliged to CopyCatFilms for the template.